joey lim

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Software development and ... law?

25 August, 2021 / 4 minute read

"Why did you switch from law to software development?"

"Wasn't it a waste to go through years of law school, legal training, bar examinations to qualify as a lawyer, and then quit law?"

"How were you so sure that you wanted to become a software developer instead?"

"Why didn't you just study computer science?"

These are probably the most common questions I get asked whenever someone discovers my past life as a corporate lawyer. From the outside, a switch from law to software development probably seems totally bizarre. While it's true that law is very different from software development, the switch wasn't as random as it seemed, from my perspective.

🍳 Umbreon and the Giant Omelette

I actually started working on web development projects as a small child of around 11, although I certainly had no clue about concepts like "web development", "software engineering", "UI/UX", or even "programming languages". I was (and still am) a huge Pokemon fan, and I created a fansite dedicated to Umbreon from scratch, writing HTML and CSS in a Notepad text file and designing banners and a tacky custom pointer in GIMP. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun, looked great in my opinion and I was proud of what I made.

I also devoted quite a lot of time in my childhood to Neopets, dutifully visiting the Giant Omelette and a bunch of other daily freebies. I eventually realized these were repetitive, time-consuming tasks and looked for a way to automate them - leading me to discover Tampermonkey and Greasemonkey, browser extensions that allow you to run userscripts. At the time, I didn't even know what JavaScript was, I only knew that scripts could communicate with the web browser to help me earn free omelettes and Neopoints with as little effort as possible.

Fast-forward a few years, I moved on from customizing my Neopets user profile ("user lookup") layout using HTML/CSS to customizing tumblr themes in my mid-teenage years.

πŸ› So... why did I go to law school?

I'm not that old - I graduated in 2017 - but the world is pretty different now than it was back in 2014 when I chose my field of study. Leaving aside the fact that the age of 17 is way too young for someone to make a career-deciding, life-changing decision, I'd say a combination of cultural and gender expectations meant that the thought of studying anything engineering-related never even crossed my mind.

(Un)fortunately, my grades qualified me for two choices: law or medicine. I loved literature; I also loved chemistry, but I hated biology. So that's the story of how I ended up studying law.

Law school was fine, I learned lots of stuff, like resilience, logical argumentation, critical thinking, time-management and so on. But it didn't leave me with much time or energy to learn new skills for fun, like I did so often as a child.

πŸ› Grasshopper

A few years later, I was back in Singapore, on my hour-long bus ride to work, a freshly qualified lawyer. I was browsing the App Store on my phone, as I do when I'm bored. I saw an app by Google called Grasshopper, for learning JavaScript through cute games. I downloaded it and ended up having a lot of fun going through it, and I wanted to know more. After some research, I breezed through freeCodeCamp's Responsive Web Design course as a refresher on HTML/CSS, and was surprised at how much I already knew. But I still wanted to know more - how exactly does a web application - not just a static page - work, and how could I build one myself from scratch?

I dove deeper into full-stack web development, working on a Udemy course whenever I had a free evening. Then, the opportunity to attend a coding bootcamp with government-subsidized fees and a partial scholarship arose and I decided to take it. I couldn't see a fulfilling or sustainable future as a lawyer for myself, and I was satisfied that I wouldn't ever have any regrets or what-ifs, after having already experienced working as a fully-fledged lawyer for nearly a year.

πŸ€” Did I waste 5 years of my life?

No. All experience is valuable, even the "bad" ones. Experiences in life are rarely useless, and there's always something to be learnt. Many things I learnt in the legal industry have continued to be relevant and applicable in my software engineering roles, like managing tight deadlines, communicating with difficult people, solving tough problems and so on... but I'll save this topic for another day ✨.

So there you have it, a long-form FAQ of sorts for people wondering why and how I made the switch from law to software development πŸ’πŸ»β€β™€οΈ.

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